Bradford Plumer

Yes, Biochar Really Might Be That Magical
August 11, 2010

Biochar has always sounded like a whimsical climate solution that's too good to be true. Simply stir a little charcoal into the soil and—voila—it's supposedly possible to suck thousands of tons of carbon-dioxide out of the air. Sounds suspicious, no? And yet it just might work. A new study in Nature Communications finds that the world could, in theory, sustainably offset a whopping 12 percent of global greenhouse-gas emissions by producing biochar. The basic idea is easy enough to follow.

Massive Iceberg Snaps Off Greenland--But What Does It Mean?
August 10, 2010

Yesterday, a massive ice island four times the size of Manhattan snapped off of Greenland's Petermann Glacier. Ominous, no? A disturbing sign of a warming planet? Well… actually, it's hard to say. It's true that, in a broad sense, Greenland has been losing ice faster than it has been accumulating snow in recent years. The thing's clearly melting. But linking this one specific glacier calving to global warming is more difficult, and something many glaciologists are reluctant to do.

Are the Worst Effects of the BP Spill Yet to Come?
August 10, 2010

In the latest issue of Mother Jones, Julia Whitty has a great story on how the BP oil spill is likely to affect the complex ecology of the Gulf for years to come. The piece is too hard to summarize, and is well worth reading in full (she covers possible affects on a wide range of different habitats and species), but this section in particular—on tubeworms of all things—underscored how little we know about what all that dispersed and dissolved oil will do to the region: Least certain of all is what's happening to the life at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico.

And The Prize Goes To...
August 06, 2010

A great random tidbit from Stan Cox's new book, Losing Our Cool, about the invention of ozone-depleting CFCs: The breakthrough CFC refrigerant, Freon, was invented in 1930 by chemist Thomas Midgley, working for General Motors' Frigidaire division. Midgley earlier had found that the problem of car engine knocking could be solved by adding lead, which wound up causing serious air pollution and health problems. On the strength of his two momentous discoveries, Midgley was credited by historian J.R.

Red Hot Disaster In Russia
August 05, 2010

Now and again you hear Russian officials sound pretty blithe about global warming. In 2003, Vladimir Putin joked that a little extra heat would help Russians "save on fur coats and other warm things." More recently, a spokesman in the Natural Resources Ministry put it this way: "We are not panicking. Global warming is not as catastrophic for us as it might be for some other countries.

Needs More Horsepower
August 05, 2010

Gregg Easterbrook has an interesting look back at how car reviewers helped enable America's addiction to gas guzzlers—a trend that, in hindsight, helped bring down Detroit: Because auto reviewers fixated on speed, carmaker executives paid too much attention to horsepower, not enough to manufacturing quality, MPG and safety. The excellent 2002 book High and Mighty by Keith Bradsher not only offers what reads, in retrospect, as a prescient warning of Big Three arrogance and slipshod management.

Where Did BP's Oil Go?
August 04, 2010

So what happened to the millions of barrels of oil that leaked out of BP's Macondo well? Where did it all go? Here's a chart from a new study by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (click to enlarge): Rough summary: About one-quarter of the oil is still bobbing on the sea surface or washed ashore. Another quarter has been dispersed into microscopic droplets, either by artificial chemicals or natural processes. And another quarter has been "dissolved." All told, just 25 percent has been physically removed from the Gulf ecosystem. The rest is still lurking... somewhere.

Can The Energy Bill Come Back After Recess?
August 04, 2010

Hey, it's the U.S. Senate. What did anyone expect? Harry Reid's now yanking even the stripped-down, hyper-modest energy bill from consideration until after the August recess. Republicans, along with a few Democrats like Mary Landrieu, had strongly opposed the part of the bill that would remove the liability cap for oil companies that spilled crude into the sea. But is it possible that energy legislation come back stronger than ever?

China's Bus of the Future
August 04, 2010

Annie Lee at China Hush relays the future of public transportation in China: the "straddling bus," which glides over other cars on the road. (Okay, it's technically called the "3D fast bus," but straddling bus is more apt.) Apart from looking cool, the idea makes practical sense. Many Chinese cities have severe congestion problems and need more public transit options. Buses can get bogged down amid the slow crawl of cars unless they have their own lanes, and if they do get their own lanes, they're hogging up road capacity. Not a problem for the straddling bus.

Fossil-Fuel Subsidies Still Dominate
August 03, 2010

Quick, which gets subsidized more heavily around the world, fossil fuels or renewable energy? Bloomberg crunches the numbers and finds that it's not even close—oil, gas, and coal get a whopping twelve times as much total government support: Governments last year gave $43 billion to $46 billion of support to renewable energy through tax credits, guaranteed electricity prices known as feed-in tariffs and alternative energy credits, the London-based research group said today in a statement.